When we got married at city hall, he insisted on paying the fee. I got my friend Robert to take photos. We held a party at our apartment and everybody brought champagne. And when we bought the house, we agreed that I should pay only a percentage of the mortgage based on what I earn and what he earns, and that I should own an equivalent percentage of community property; this is written in our prenuptial agreement. Since Harold pays more, he had the deciding vote on how the house should look. It is sleek, spare, and what he calls "fluid," nothing to disrupt the line, meaning none of my cluttered look. As for vacations, the one we choose together is fifty-fifty. The others Harold pays for, with the understanding that it's a birthday or Christmas present, or an anniversary gift.
And we've had philosophical arguments over things that have gray borders, like my birth-control pills, or dinners at home when we entertain people who are really his clients or my old friends from college, or food magazines that I subscribe to but he also reads only because he's bored, not because he would have chosen them for himself.
And we still argue about Mirugai \o7 the \f7 cat--not our cat, or my cat, but \o7 the \f7 cat that was his gift to me for my birthday last year.
"This, you do not share!" exclaims my mother in an astonished voice. And I am startled, thinking she had read my thoughts about Mirugai. But then I see she is pointing to "ice cream" on Harold's list. My mother must remember the incident on the fire escape landing, where she found me, shivering and exhausted, sitting next to that container of regurgitated ice cream. I could never stand the stuff after that. And then I am startled once again to realize that Harold has never noticed that I don't eat any of the ice cream he brings home every Friday evening.
"Why you do this?"
My mother has a wounded sound in her voice, as if I had put the list up to hurt her. I think how to explain this, recalling the words Harold and I had used with each other in the past: "So we can eliminate false dependencies . . . be equals . . . love without obligation. . ." But these are words she could never understand.
So instead I tell my mother this: "I don't really know. It's something we started before we got married. And for some reason we never stopped."
WHEN HAROLD returns from the store, he starts the charcoal. I unload the groceries, marinate the steaks, cook the rice and set the table. My mother sits on a stool at the granite counter, drinking from a mug of coffee I've poured for her. Every few minutes she wipes the bottom of the mug with a tissue she keeps stuffed in her sweater sleeve.
During dinner, Harold keeps the conversation going. He talks about the plans for the house: the skylights, expanding the deck, planting flower beds of tulips and crocuses, clearing the poison oak, adding another wing, building a Japanese-style tile bathroom. And then he clears the table and starts stacking the plates in the dishwasher.
"Who's ready for dessert?" he asks, reaching into the freezer.
"I'm full," I say.
"Lena cannot eat ice cream," says my mother.
"So it seems. She's always on a diet."
"No, she never eat it. She doesn't like."
And now Harold smiles and looks at me puzzled, expecting me to translate what my mother has said.
"It's true," I say evenly. "I've hated ice cream almost all my life."
Harold looks at me, as if I, too, were speaking Chinese and he could not understand.
"I guess I assumed you were just trying to lose weight. . . . Oh well."
"She become so thin now you cannot see her," says my mother. "She like a ghost, disappear."
"That's right! Christ, that's great," exclaims Harold, laughing, relieved in thinking my mother is graciously trying to rescue him.
After dinner, I put clean towels on the bed in the guest room. My mother is sitting on the bed. The room has Harold's minimalist look to it: the twin bed with plain white sheets and white blanket, polished wood floors, a bleached oak wood chair and nothing on the slanted gray walls.
The only decoration is an odd-looking piece right next to the bed: an end table made out of a slab of unevenly cut marble and thin crisscrosses of black lacquer wood for the legs. My mother puts her handbag on the table and the cylindrical black vase on top starts to wobble. The freesias in the vase quiver.
"Careful, it's not too sturdy," I say. The table is a poorly designed piece that Harold made in his student days. I've always wondered why he's so proud of it. The lines are clumsy. It doesn't bear any of the traits of "fluidity" that are so important to Harold these days.
"What use for?" asks my mother, jiggling the table with her hand. "You put something else on top, everything fall down. \o7 Chunwang chihan.\f7 "
I LEAVE MY MOTHER IN HER ROOM and go back downstairs. Harold is opening the windows to let the night air in. He does this every evening.
"I'm cold," I say.
"Could you close the windows, please."